(Reuters) - The U.S. women's ice hockey team have decided to stand fast in their wage fight with USA Hockey as they let a deadline pass on Thursday without confirming whether they will play in the upcoming world championships.
"We were aware of USA Hockey's deadline and have allowed it to pass," the players said in a statement released shortly after a 5 p.m. ET deadline set by USA Hockey on Thursday. "We are focused on the issue of equitable support and stand by our position.
"We continue to be grateful for the encouragement and loyalty of our fans."
While the deadline has passed, USA Hockey said the door remains open for a settlement and hopes the current team will be on the ice when the week-long tournament begins March 31 in Michigan.
"We are committed to resolving this," USA Hockey Dave Fischer told Reuters. "But there is no question the clock is ticking."
USA Hockey denied suggestions that it has a Plan B in place and said reports they have contacted other players about playing in the March 31 tournament are "completely inaccurate."
The deadline comes a day after the defending world champions, citing a lack of progress in year-long negotiations, said they will boycott the tournament unless their demands for higher wages are met by USA Hockey.
"We have heard that USA Hockey is attempting to field an alternative team to play in the world championship games," the players said. "We regret that they have not instead chosen to reconsider their treatment of the current world championship-winning team."
Players are under contract to USA Hockey only during years when the Winter Games are held and are seeking a deal that would compensate them during non-Olympic years.
USA Hockey maintains that its role is to support players as they prepare for competitions not to employ them.
USA Hockey said the support they will provide ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics includes a six-month training camp, stipends and incentives for medals that could result in each player receiving nearly $85,000.
Members of the national team dispute those figures claiming USA Hockey has coupled their contributions with payments made by the U.S. Olympic Committee, which pays gold medal-winning athletes more than $60,000.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Frank Pingue)